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Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Hollywood Babylon - Kenneth Anger
Member Name: Jake Speed
Hollywood Babylon - Kenneth Anger
Advantages: Witty and entertaining
Disadvantages: Mostly cobblers
'The shadow of Babylon had fallen over Hollywood,' writes Anger. 'A serpent spell in code cuneiform; scandal was waiting, just out of Billy Bitzer's camera range. The already famous faces took on names and rapidly-rising salaries: the Star System - a very mixed blessing - was born. For better or for worse, Hollywood would henceforth have to contend with that fatal chimera - the STAR.' The book is rather macabre at times with details on Jayne Mansfield's car crash and the Black Dahlia murder case and there are some distasteful photographs too, all of which serve to give the book a slightly creepy atmosphere. There are chapters on all manner of things like the Gish sisters sleeping with each other, Rudolph Valentino being gay, Charlie Chaplin's penchant for underage girls. This is mostly nonsense and distorted by the author but written in an entertaining if hardly tasteful fashion. The inaccurate and speculative nature of much of the book is of course part of its appeal because most people can't resist urban legends and salacious gossip but a lot of this is not difficult to see through.
I have no idea what Errol Flynn got up to in his private life but I do know that Fatty Arbuckle did not die a broken and ruined man as Anger says here. Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle was a famous silent comedian and a friend and mentor to people like Buster Keaton and Chaplin. In 1921 he held a party in his hotel suite and a woman there named Virginia Rappé fell ill, dying four days later from peritonitis. Arkbuckle was arrested and charged with manslaughter with lurid stories swirling around that he'd assaulted the woman and was some sex crazed monster in real life. He was in fact completely innocent and acquitted in six minutes at the final trial. Hollywood was reluctant to put Arbuckle's name on anything afterwards officially but he did direct films under an assumed name and work with Chaplin and Keaton again and many others who stood by him. He was eventually offered a 3 film contract by a studio and died a happy - and innocent - man. Anger's chapter here about Arbuckle is full of inaccurate details about his films and life and completely disregards the fact that he was cleared of any charges and received an apology from both the courts and the film industry before he died.
Hollywood Babylon became something of an underground classic when it finally got a permanent airing in an English language version. The United States was a more cynical place in the era of Watergate and not adverse to a bit of mud slinging at Hollywood and famous icons. Some of the mysteries surrounding the deaths of stars are trawled through here and there are some interesting cases. One in particular is the death of Thelma Todd in 1935. Todd was a beautiful blonde actress (nicknamed 'Hot Toddy' by her friends) who had worked with the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy. She was found dead behind the wheel of her car, an apparent suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Was this really the case though? Anger points to blood found on her mouth, supporting a theory that foul play was at work and her body was cremated and therefore prevented a second autopsy by investigators. Was Todd being blackmailed by someone? Did she get mixed up with some dodgy people? Was it just a case of suicide, the blood caused by her slumping and hitting her mouth on the steering wheel? Was there no blood at all, the Thelma Todd conspiracy theories having 75% of their origins in this book!? We'll never know but it's undeniably absorbing to read about cases like this.
Other delights here include the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the death of Lupe Vélez, and a truly outrageous assertion by the author on the death of Ramon Novarro that is absolute cobblers. Anger claims Novarro was the lover of Rudolph Valentino. According to this book, not only was Valentino gay, his wives were all lesbians! I found there where quite a lot of celebrities I'd never actually heard of in the book but it's interesting to learn a bit more about them even if you do have to take the accounts of their exploits with a big lorry load of salt. Hollywood Babylon is mostly codswallop but as far as rumour mongering and trash goes this is actually a lot of fun at times and at the time of writing you can pick up a used copy of this for under a fiver. Caveat emptor.
Summary: Dubious but fun Hollywood gossip
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